Kiran Rao© GettyImages

Kiran Rao On Not Working With Superstars, Her Modern Family And More

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Puja Talwar

Petite and easygoing, Kiran Rao exudes an aura of self-assurance which is distinctly refreshing. Unbothered by the constant scrutiny and interest surrounding her relationship with her former superstar husband, she remarks, “I know people will always know me as Aamir Khan’s wife/girl, and that’s fine. But he can never overshadow me, since I have never desired any kind of validation, even though I came into the limelight because of him and was regarded as the girl attached to him. I have a strong identity attached to myself, and my relationship with myself is mine alone,” she says matter-of-factly.

Her inimitable candour wins you over as Kiran once again finds herself in the spotlight. This time, it’s for her directorial comeback with the winsome social satire Laapataa Ladies. The story revolves around two brides who get swapped on a train and lose their way due to their veils, which hampers their view. The film, which has been highly praised, can also serve as a metaphor for Kiran’s journey of finding her distinct voice and launching her own production company.

“I was fortunate that my first film, Dhobi Ghat, although unconventional in its form and not what people were accustomed to, received the backing of Aamir. That was huge and gave me the vote of confidence as a filmmaker,” she says of her critically acclaimed debut in 2010. She admits she struggled to get her voice back with her second film. “I felt weighed down by the pressure of ‘what next’ and the expectations of going big with my second film. I felt unhappy with what I had been writing,” she shares. It was Aamir who brought her the story that eventually became Laapataa Ladies, and they immediately set to work on it. “I have been part of Aamir Khan Productions for years and I cannot ever sever my ties. I did think this was the best time for me to test my ideas out, find an outlet to work on things that I had been incubating for over a decade and create magic at the movies.”

A film led by a cast of rank newcomers, Kiran says it was more or less a conscious decision at the end to go with raw talent, than known names in the business. “Every story demands a casting. A lot of people had felt that having Aamir star opposite a sea of new faces in Dhobi Ghat was odd. Even though I felt his performance was pitch perfect, I realised the significant impact a well-known name like his could have on the overall balance of the film,” says the filmmaker, who decided that it would be fresh and authentic to cast new faces in Laapataa Ladies. “But, who knows, maybe my next would be with superstars,” she adds with a laugh.

A Happy Blended Family

Aamir’s unwavering support for the film, including wearing a T-shirt with “mostly laapataa” written on it during promotions, has been unmistakable. Kiran mentions that she has no reservations about reaching out to her ex-husband and requesting his presence as needed.

The couple had met on the sets of Lagaan in 2001, were married in 2005, and parted ways amicably in 2021, after 16 years of marriage.

While they continue to maintain a close friendship and co-parent their son Azad Rao Khan, Kiran reveals the one key factor that makes their relationship work. “Aamir and I have had our fair share of ups and downs in our relationship. However, we’ve always held each other in high regard, respecting each other’s creative processes and individuality. Like any couple, we’ve had disagreements and differing opinions, but there has never been any major turbulence or acrimony to affect us deeply,” the filmmaker shares. She adds that their marriage has helped them grow as individuals, and they remain the best of friends. “We are each other’s support.”

One cannot help but recall the bonhomie between both Kiran and Aamir at his daughter Ira Khan’s wedding this January. From planting an affectionate peck on her cheek on the wedding stage, one also saw the easy camaraderie between her and Reena Datta, Aamir’s first wife.

Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao©GettyImages

“It comes naturally because of the environment we have cultivated over the years,” Kiran reveals. “Reena was always part of the family even after she and Aamir divorced, and the kids [Junaid and Ira] were very much part of my life when I got married to Aamir. It has never been an issue or question in my mind. My family will remain my family. Even if the nature of your relationship changes, if it’s strong and valued, you wouldn’t want to end it,” she states.

Being well aware of the constant public scrutiny of their private lives, Kiran has successfully managed to keep 10-year-old Azad away from it. “It is a struggle for star kids; there is a perverse interest in their lives, what they are doing, what they are wearing, I get that,” she says, sharing that it has been an endeavour to ensure that Azad is not impacted. “He has his personality and identity and I want him to develop that and not have to perform for social media. He needs to become his own person and be able to share that with people at a time when he is ready for it. We allow him his privacy; when he wants to come out, he does, when he does not, we respect that,” she states.

Films Or Fashion, She’s An Original

It’s not just her bold choices in cinema that this free-spirited filmmaker is known for. Kiran’s highly individualistic streak is also reflected in her fashion choices.

Kiran Rao©GettyImages

From her unconventionally draped saris to bodice trousers, flared bottoms and asymmetrical cuts, her indie fashion statements have made her a style influencer of sorts. She confesses to being a shopaholic, who likes to see ‘herself’ reflected in her wardrobe choices. “I experiment a lot with the stuff that I wear. I value comfort, however cliched that may sound. But fashion is the skin that you wear, it’s a disguise that you sport and I feel what you wear reflects some part of you. I enjoy experimenting with different silhouettes and colours and am deeply interested in fashion as an extension of myself.”

Thrilled by the reception her new film has received, Kiran is ready to spread her wings to another platform. “I finally have an Instagram account called ‘Raodyness,’” she shares regarding her efforts to become more socially savvy. The good-natured filmmaker is quick to clarify that her ‘rowdiness’ is reserved for the set. However, she sees her social media presence as a step towards having her voice heard loud and clear, along with that of many women in cinema. We, for one, eagerly anticipate hearing more stories from her.

This article has been adapted for the website from the April 2024 issue of HELLO! India. Grab your copies here.